As a follow-up to the last post, I thought I’d share this article that I came across last spring regarding chimpanzee strength. Judging by your comments, you either think that Burrito is incredibly strong or that I am incredibly weak. I choose to believe the former.
Honestly, I can’t think of a human on this planet who could compete with a chimpanzee in terms of sheer strength. And yet, after all these years being around chimps, I’ve never really understood why this is. Sure, they are more muscular than most humans, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to explain such a dramatic difference in power.
There are two explanations that I’ve come across, and they both seem plausible (and they are not mutually exclusive). The first says that the chimpanzee’s greater strength is due to a difference in “musculoskeletal architecture”, meaning, basically, that their muscle fibers and the geometry of the attachments between muscle and bone are different than ours. Have you ever wondered how a 150-pound deer is able to gracefully leap over garden fences on those scrawny little legs? When you think about how powerful some animals can be with such small muscles, you start to realize that size isn’t everything. But the second explanation, available in detail from the link above, says that humans simply have more “cerebral inhibition” over muscle control. Basically, our brains limit the extent to which we can use our own muscles. Only once in a blue moon do we hear of someone using all of their available strength, and only in times of severe stress – for example, stories of mothers lifting cars when their children are trapped underneath (just an example, I don’t know if that’s actually ever happened!). Chimps, on the other hand, go full-bore all the time, making tog-o-war with their human caregivers a short-lived game.
Anyway, I’m in no position to evaluate either explanation, but its interesting to think about.